Hector Wotherspoon’s final report from Ghana

Hector Wotherspoon in Ghana

As I sit here back home in my comfortable kitchen, it’s hard to believe that only four weeks ago I was standing up in front of a class of 55 pupils. It was 36 degrees and 99% humidity and I was teaching them about numeric bases and superlative adjectives, amongst other things.

As cliché as it sounds, my time in Ghana has been the best experience of my life. I’ve spent eight months living in a completely new environment. I’ve met some amazing people, heard some incredible stories, made some lifelong friends, saw some of the beautiful sights West Africa has to offer, experienced a vibrant culture, taught some inspiring students and have been adopted into one very special, very loving community.

My project partner Harry and I lived in a “Children’s Village” called In My Father’s House (IMFH). It was just outside the town of Abor, which lies three hours east of the capital Accra in the Volta Region. The ‘House’ is run by an Italian priest affectionately known as Father Joe and is home to around 180 children. 80 live there full time (orphaned, abandoned or handicapped) while 100 are term time boarders. The House has a school which educates a further 500 day pupils.

I taught English and Maths to Form 1 and Form 2 (equivalent to Years 8 and 9 or S1 and S2) respectively with class sizes of 42 and 55 pupils. However, due to some long gaps in educations the age range in my two classes was from 11 to 21. There were next to no resources. I had an out of date textbook and syllabus to work from while the pupils just had pens and paper.

Initially planning each lesson, coming up with questions, exercises and homework tasks that would be engaging and interesting to the kids was a huge challenge. I felt like my lessons weren’t stimulating enough and so as a result I struggled to maintain order in the classroom. The Ghanaian way of teaching is repetition and rote-based and so I think my pupils struggled with my different style of teaching. However, they soon understood what I was getting at and I genuinely believe they enjoyed the change in teaching technique as they evidently looked forward to my lessons.

After school I would spend the afternoon playing football, reading, drawing or just chatting with the children and being a general presence in the House.

One outcome of my teaching that I found particularly rewarding turned out to be the basis of my first lesson with them. Sitting in the staff room on my second day at school, twiddling my thumbs as I’d yet to be assigned lessons, one boy came up to me and told me their teacher hadn’t turned up to class (this unfortunately was a repeat occurrence) and asked if I’d come to teach them.

With zero lesson notes and no syllabus or textbook in sight I started the lesson by asking “how are you?” – hoping the rest would follow suit. They all responded in unison “we are fine”. This perfectly practiced response struck home to me the fact that every time I had asked a Ghanaian how they were – or in fact how anything was or could be – the response was “fine”. So I decided to teach them alternative responses to the question “how are you?”. By the end of the lesson I asked them the question again and received “fantastic”, “really brilliant” and “quite superb” amongst many other, equally enthusiastic, answers.

This class turned out to be the class I taught English grammar and mathematics to so I saw them every day. To start each lesson I would test them on what I had taught them on my second day and to begin with it took at least three repetitions of the question before they cottoned on to what I wanted them to say instead of “fine”. On the morning of their end of year English exam I walked round the class as they furiously crammed all last minute knowledge into their heads. I dutifully went up to each cluster huddled round the few textbooks between them and answered any for questions they might have. Asking them how they were, their anxious faces looked up at me and answered just how I’d taught them to – one response which was completely new was “incredibly excellent”. So if you ever go to Ghana, ask someone how they are and are received with an exceptionally energetic response ask them if they were taught by “Sir Ecta” at IMFH Basic School.

I feel like my time at IMFH was spent achieving lots of little things as opposed to large projects. I spent a lot of time talking with the older children about their futures. It’s unbelievable how influenced they are by the little media they come into contact with. All the boys’ idols are either footballers or musicians and so as a result they all have unrealistic aspirations of becoming footballers in Europe or recording a song with a record label in Accra and making it big. While there’s nothing I’d like more than for them to achieve their dreams I thought it was important to discuss with them what their back up plans might be. Becoming an accountant, social worker or architect had not crossed any of their minds. Jobs which most would assume are few and far between in developing Africa but in fact are in demand and only going to become more sought after as Ghana’s economy grows and its infrastructure expands.

I think heading off all those months ago I was really naïve with regard to how challenging the whole experience would actually be. I expected to adapt to the culture and climate in days when in reality it took a couple of months until I called IMFH home. I didn’t anticipate I’d miss family and friends as much as I did and I didn’t I think teaching would be such a challenge. However I also didn’t expect I’d develop anywhere near the kind of relationship I did have with the children there. I hoped I’d have a fun teacher-student relationship at most but in reality I ended up playing a big brother/friend/parent role with the children in the House. This aspect was definitely the highlight of my time away and I’ve made memories with these children that I’ll never forget.

It’s also really put into perspective for me how human relationships work and how people with such different backgrounds can become so close without technology or social media, a concept I think my generation finds difficult to grasp. I’ll be forever grateful to all those people and charities that helped me get to Ghana and to my extended Ghanaian family for making the experience so unforgettable. I truly hope to see them all again.

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